What makes this so interesting is that Apel is as fervent an agbio-booster as one could get.
Andrew Apel, the editor of an ag biotech newsletter, has this to say on Prakash's list -- Business as Usual
Colleagues, It is high time that biotech companies such as Monsanto and Aventis reconsider how they do business. The GM potato is dead. The GM sugar beet is dead. StarLink maize is dead. The prognosis for GM wheat is guarded, and the outlook for maize designed to combat the rootworm is not hopeful. Each new product will be a new controversy, and the industry has agreed not to release a new product without an available test to detect it. With tests for GM becoming better and cheaper and identity preservation maturing, food companies are equipped to kill new products more easily than ever.
Food companies are neither friends nor natural allies of the seed companies. Food companies killed the GM potato and the GM beet, and will shed no tears over the demise of GM wheat or any other GM product (1). Still, the biotech companies remain firmly convinced of the safety and value of their products. If they think their products are so great, obviously the existing food companies are missing something 'creating a potentially huge marketing opportunity'. If the biotech companies started their own food companies, they could offer GM foods directly to the consumers and advertise their benefits, and go head to head with the existing food giants who don't seem to be getting the biotech message. Personally, I think it would be great to be able to buy Monsanto corn dogs or tofu or potato chips.
That is not going to happen, though. Ag biotech companies don't understand consumers, so there is no way they could run food companies. Food companies understand consumers extremely well, and the fact that they don't care about biotech and mostly don't care for it also says a lot. Contributing to the problem is the fact that the GM products out there are designed to appeal to the market for GM seed farmers. Agronomic traits don't appeal to consumers, and aren't meant to. At the same time, consumers simply don't care about farmers. Consumers in developing countries don't care about farmers, either. A GM sweet potato that iÃŒs more productive and easier to cultivate might appeal to farmers, but the consumer just wants to eat.
Same with GM crops that are better for the environment. Except for the tiny minority who think they are saving the environment by purchasing 'organic' food, consumers seldom give more than lip service to how eating decisions affect the environment. Bottom line, consumers eat for personal reasons. They eat because they're hungry, not because they're trying to help farmers or save butterflies.
In affluent nations, consumers have the luxury of choosing between food products on the basis of things that have nothing to do with nutrition or safety, but it is going to be a long time before we see someone touting the modern agronomic traits of their corn chips. Sure, there are companies that tout the antique agronomic ('organic') traits of their corn chips, but thatÃŒs a distinctly small market that mostly caters to upscale eco-reactionaries and food paranoiacs.
What do the biotech companies need to do in a market structured like this? Simple. Produce things that food companies will actually want to slap a 'New And Improved' label on. Or try something else. Anything. Because business as usual is definitely not working.
(1) To a certain extent, the biotech companies can force products on food companies. The GM potato died because the french fry market is controlled almost entirely by three companies. This concentration of power also made it possible to kill the GM sugar beet. There may be a similar concentration of power in the hands of exporters with regard to GM wheat. However, when it comes to users of maize and soybeans, power is much less concentrated, meaning that biotech companies may be able to introduce new versions of them to farmers and 'dare' the industry to either complain, and absorb the cost of testing and segregation, or to shut up. This isn't a great way to make new friends, though.
Charles Benbrook Ag BioTech InfoNet <http://www.biotech-info.net>